Friday, 25 March 2011

Which Services Would Reading Labour Cut?

I read online this week that Labour councillors in Reading are opposed to the Coalition Council's plans to charge residents for Green Waste Collections.

This service isn't free to deliver. So how would they pay for it?

They say they care about local services but how would they fund them?

Over the past year Labour councillors in Reading have opposed every single saving we have identified and every charge we have sought to introduce which when taken together help protect services to the most vulnerable.

In their mindless opposition to everything Labour councillors have not differentiated between bulky waste charges and day centre charges: they are opposed to them all.

When pressed as to what they would do to fund services the Labour Group Leader stated that "we wouldn't start from here".

So no alternative Budget was tabled.

This near silence has left me in no doubt at all that were they running the Council now Labour would be cutting more jobs and axing more services than the Coalition Administration has.

So the question then becomes not if but what would Labour cut and which services would they axe.

Libraries? Leisure Centres? Sure Start Centres?

Labour councillors are always quick to point the finger at us but more reticient about offering solutions..

Under the Liberal Democrat - Conservative control of Reading Borough Council none of these services in Reading will close, and in the case of libraries the reality is quite the reverse with opening hours being extended across the town.

So in Reading politics the real political gap that is opening up is one of credibility.

As former Labour minister Hazel Blears commented earlier this week: it's time Labour got real and told the public what they would cut.

We know that former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling's plans planned in massive cuts in  public spending:
"Darling’s three-year cash freeze, to begin in 2011, will mean big cuts in real spending for government departments. Compared with this year’s expected £387 billion total for spending by departments, the equivalent by 2013-4 will be £351 billion"
And outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne helpfully confirmed his Party's financial legacy when on leaving office he announced "there is no money left".

So how would Reading Labour councillors have dealt with this?

Locally It has been widely known in that in setting this year's budget the Council needed to find in the region of £19 million pounds worth of savings in one year as a result of reductions in government grant.

Finding these savings was far from easy but Lib Dem and Conservative Councillors did what had to be done to balance the budget in order to fund services that local residents hold dear including libraries, leisure services, children's services and care for the elderly.

As part of this process in January this year the Council’s Cabinet considered a report setting out saving targets and income proposals to help set the budget for the financial year 2011/12.

One of the proposals agreed by Cabinet was to introduce charges for the collection of green waste.

Labour councillors opposed the plans in their entirety failing to put forward any alternative.

And it gets worse.

Once again by burying they heads in the sand and favouring the "doing nothing" Labour councillors are once again defending unfairness.

Under Labour's Green Waste collection service Council Tax payers living in properties without gardens, for example flats, or those who are unable to take advantage of the green waste collection service have been subsidising those who could.

Not very fair, is it?

At a time when the Council must prioritise spending charging people who use green waste collections rather than cutting essential services would seem to me to be a fairer way of approaching savings.

Many Local Authorities currently impose a charge for the collection of green waste and many more will be in the future.

So the question is - if Labour are opposed to raising revenue through fees and charges what services would they cut to balance the Council's budget?

You don't need to look very far to see what Labour-run councils have done when faced with budget pressures.

In Manchester Labour closed five libraries, cut bin collections and closed leisure centres.

Down the road in Sheffield (run by the Lib Dems) councillors had to make identical savings (more than 8 % of their total budget) but there they kep every swimming pool, library and Sure Start Centre open.

In Camden Labour closed two SureStart Centre and cut library services.

Across England not one Sure Start Centre has closed where Lib Dems control councils.

So what would Reading Labour do?

Their previous record in local government is a useful guide:

When they ran the Council Labour habitually increased Council Tax.

In 2000/01 – the Band D council tax in Reading was £848. By 2010 it had risen to £1,500.

This is a 77% increase – meanwhile over the same period inflation increased by 26%.

Over a 10 year period, when Labour ran the Council in Reading Council Tax rose at three times the rate of inflation.

We have calculated that by opposing all our savings proposals, if Labour were in control they would increase next year’s Council Tax by 30%.

With elections coming up it's about time local Labour councillors came clean with Reading residents about how they would pay for services: Council Tax hike or slash and burn?

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